VCU Ditches Professor Who Questioned Text 

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Len Smock, chair of VCU's biology department, describes Sparks' departure as a matter of practicality, the nature of adjunct positions. A panel made up of department heads decided not to retain Sparks for the fall semester, he says.

"We really don't need him to teach anything," Smock says. "Nobody here begrudges his view. At the same time, he had a perspective on the book that was very different from everyone else's on the faculty."

Style reported June 7 of Sparks' efforts to have VCU halt its use of the book, "Essentials of Biology," by Sylvia S. Mader, criticizing what he called a substantive lack of content, especially on evolution. Sparks also questioned whether the text had creationist leanings. When he tried to address his concerns with fellow faculty and higher-ups at VCU, he was rebuffed, he said in a previous interview.

Quietly, some of Sparks' colleagues sided with him, relaying support in e-mails to Sparks and to Style. Others expressed uncertainty about his claim, but backed his right to raise questions and prompt debate. Still others, via e-mail, told him to "quit pushing your agenda" and "proceed with caution."

Sparks' initial comments on the book have had consequences. After he spoke to Style and later the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the new Mader textbooks were rounded up and reviewed, says his former colleague. The biology faculty found no grounds for abandoning the text, Smock says, and voted unanimously to use it in the fall.

Sparks' vocal concerns also brought about a lengthy missive to the dean of VCU's school of arts and sciences, Robert D. Holsworth, from a vice president of McGraw-Hill, publishers of the book. The letter praises VCU for choosing the text and defends its veracity. S

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